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Audio At CEATEC: Systems Get HDDs, MP3 Connectivity

A smattering of new home audio products tucked behind walls of flat-panel displays here at the CEATEC show last week included mini systems equipped with hard disk drives (HDDs) and connections to portable MP3 players.

Such products were displayed by Panasonic and JVC, which also showed its first tabletop one-piece music system. Neither company announced plans for U.S. distribution.

Panasonic showed a pair of D-Dock-branded HDD shelf systems, which record CDs and transfer recorded audio to a docked SD memory card. The card in turn can be inserted into Panasonic D-Snap MP3 portables for playback. The mini systems also recharge separately docked D-Snap portables. Last year in the U.S., Panasonic unveiled the CD-ripping five-disc SD-PM71 microsystem, which transferred content to a docked SD card at 4x speed from its CD changer but didn’t incorporate an HDD. The PM71, currently retailing for $299 on with included 1GB SD card, also doesn’t recharge a docked Panasonic MP3 player.

Both of the D-Dock models have been available in Japan for about a year and will be re-priced in November. The 80GB SC-SX450 will fall to approximately $422. The 160GB SC-SX850 will go to approximately for $507.

It wasn’t clear whether the prices included MP3 player and SD card.

In the United States, only Philips currently offers an HDD-equipped shelf system, which is the centerpiece of a wireless multi-room audio system that streams music wirelessly to tabletop clients.

Several years ago, JVC offered an HDD-equipped shelf system in the U.S., but whether the company will bring the concept back to the U.S. isn’t certain, even though the company showed two such models at CEATEC. A 40GB model that is already available in Japan at around $800 features a CD and MD recorder. MD recorders and MD headphone portables are more popular in Japan than in the U.S., so the 40GB model isn’t likely to hit U.S. shores.

A prototype 80GB microsystem, due in Japan in December without MD, is a more likely immigrant. The prototype UX-HD9 features CD player, USB host capability, and ability to download protected music files directly from the Internet, the company said, but whether the latter feature will be included when the product ships hadn’t been decided. Pricing wasn’t announced.

A JVC product that also seems relevant to U.S. consumers is the company’s first one-piece tabletop audio system, a step-up product with piano-lacquer finish, AM/FM tuner, DVD-Audio/Video player, alarm clock and two full-range speakers incorporating proprietary sake-soaked wood-cone drivers. The company hasn’t decided whether to market the product in either Japan or the U.S.